I would love to say, “…back by popular demand…” But the fact is, I’ve never done this one before.
Oh, sure, lasagna is everyone’s favorite. It surely is one of mine. On the other hand, making a truly great lasagna is a whole lot of work. But, you say, “It’s worth it in the end,” don’t you? I think it is.
On the other hand, I still can’t bring myself to put all that effort into a really great dinner dish and settle for sauce from a jar. That offends me. You certainly can if you wish, but not me. If I’m going there, I will, every time, opt to make my own sauce.
It’s not that hard, really. Some herbs, lots of garlic, good tomatoes, some wine (both for the sauce and for the chef), and away we go.
This time I found myself 3000 miles from home—visiting family in LA—and was asked to make dinner for family I hadn’t seen in a few years. A chance to show off the skills. But it was in an unfamiliar kitchen, with many unfamiliar ingredients in the cupboards, so the game was on.
The challenges were interesting. One guest was vegetarian, one was Kosher, one I had never met before but who knew from the grapevine that I do have some skills. So the pressure was on.
What to make? What would satisfy all the disparate tastes. Can’t ever go wrong with lasagna. In deference to my vegetarian daughter-in-law—the one who has made an honest man of my fabulous son—veggie lasagna was on the board.
I took full advantage of the year-long bounty that is the SoCal food market. Off to Ralph’s. And then I just sort of winged it. What looked good. What didn’t.
And so, I made up a recipe, one that sounded good on paper, and gave me the opportunity to do something I hadn’t done in a while—make a good marinara. I DO make a good marinara, and it’s so easy it almost isn’t fair.
Follow along, and try this, it’s a show stopper. Oh yeah, and don’t bother boiling the noodles first. Just use them right out of the box. And you don’t need those “no-boil” noodles. They’re a scam. Regular old lasagna noodles are just fine.
The recipe looks long and involved. It’s not, if you do all the prep work at once. The only “must have” is really good tomatoes. For this recipe I used canned San Marzano tomatoes, because my home-grown, personally canned San Marzanos were 3000 miles from LA. Alas, I will be making this again soon for my family, it’s that good. Here’s the blueprint:
Improvised Veggie Lasagna
For the sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 6 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
• 1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped and divided
• 1 bunch basil, chopped
• 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
• 4 Tbsp. tomato paste
• 3 28-oz cans San Marzano tomatoes
• 1 cup Chianti, divided
• 1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
• 3 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
For the lasagna
• 9-12 sheets lasagna noodles, uncooked
• 1/2 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
• 1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
• 1 large zucchini, half-moon sliced
• 8 ounces white or Cremini mushrooms, sliced
• 1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced
• 1 large container whole-milk ricotta
• 1 cup finely grated Parmesan, divided
• 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
• chopped parsley (see above)—two Tablespoons for the cheese and more for garnish
1. Heat a large pot over low-medium heat about three minutes; Add olive oil (reserving 1 Tablespoon) and garlic slices. Cook until the slices just begin to brown.
2. Add the basil and parsley, reserving 2 tablespoons, cook until completely wilted, 3-5 minutes. Add 1/2 onion and cook, stirring constantly until transparent, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until fully browned. Add 1/2 cup wine, deglaze the pan, and continue cooking until the wine is almost fully evaporated.
4. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, the remaining wine, and salt and pepper, turn up the heat and stir well, bring to a soft boil, then reduce the heat to low, and cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.
While the sauce is cooking…
5. Heat a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat, and then the remaining olive oil. Add and sauté—one at a time, in this order—the carrots, onions, zucchini, and mushrooms, and cook until just soft. Remove from heat.
6. Slice the eggplant the long way into 1/4-inch slices, brush both sides with olive oil, and broil under low heat, until just beginning to brown; turn over and broil the second side. Remove from the heat and set aside with the sautéed vegetables.
7. In a large bowl, combine the cheeses (reserving 2 Tablespoons Parmesan), minced garlic, and reserved chopped parsley, and mix well.
Assemble the lasagna
8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
9. Spoon 2 cups sauce into a 9×13 glass baking dish.
10. Arrange one layer noodles on the sauce. Spoon half the sautéed vegetables over the noodles, add half the mixed cheeses, then layer half the eggplant over the cheese.
11. Spoon and spread 1 cup sauce over the eggplant, then repeat the noodle, veggie, cheese, and eggplant layers.
12. Add one more layer of noodles over the eggplant, then 2 more cups sauce, and spread completely over the noodles.
13. Top with mozzarella and the remaining Parmesan, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the cheese begins to brown, about 15 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven when it browns to your liking (I like mine very brown and a bit crispy on top). Remove from the oven, cover loosely with the foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Servings: a lot! This is a big-ass lasagna, and rich.
14. Sprinkle some chopped parsley over the top and serve.
Ina Garten had a good idea. I made it better (IMHO).￼ She called it “Lemon-Yogurt Cake.”
Okay, fine. But this cake is sooo much more. Silky, moist, sweet, tart, great crumb, high and mighty…
I’m not a baker, but this is gooooood!
And the lemons were grown right in my living room!
Off the success of my ML marmalade, I decided to grow my own. I got a mail-order tree two years ago, and now it’s giving me lemons. This cake was made with my first two lemons. The tree now has three more, and lots of flowers I just pollinated this morning. Success!
I had to make something special with these first lemons, and believe me, this cake is special. You simply must try it. But don’t wait two years to grow your lemons. Store bought are fine, but hurry. Meyer Lemon season is almost over. Regular lemons will work too, but the cake won’t be as good.
But with my own home-grown Meyer lemons, it’s a total home run.
Here’s the plan…
Meyer Lemon-Rosemary-Yogurt-Olive Oil Pound Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Grease an 8- by 4- by 4-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl.
- In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, rosemary, and vanilla.
- Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the olive oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 75-90 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
- Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set the lemon syrup aside.
- When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar syrup over the cake and allow it to soak into the cake for a half hour.
- For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice and drizzle over the cake.
- Allow to cool completely before serving.
NOTE: You can find Ina Garten’s original recipe here: https://pin.it/48%2Fv6Rq
So Ellen changed my mind on tomato-based chili. I was long an advocate of Tex-Mex style brisket-based chili, but now I’m on her veggie-style chili.
But now, white-bean turkey chili is my go-to. Because I’m no longer eating red meat–I’m actually on my way to vegetarian–I’m now leaning in the direction of white chili.
But at (soon-to-be) 73, I need to lean everything down even more. Thus, this recipe, which I simply love.
It starts off with a recipe from the fine folks at Skinny Taste, but because I just can’t leave a recipe alone I’ve given it my own spin and a few personal touches that I think make it even better, without compromising its Skinny Taste soul,
White-Bean and Turkey Skinny Chili
Two words that get MY heart all a-twitter (small “t”).
There a whole lot of us out here for whom hot sauce is a way of life; many of us are always on the scout for the next great sauce. Me too.
Quick anecdote: I was taught most of my culinary skills at the elbow of an amazing Filipino chef named Martin Betonio at my family’s gourmet market on South Beach in Florida. He had previously been the executive chef at the legendary Fontainebleau Hotel on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, and came to us after a dispute with hotel management. Marty was a lifelong aficionado of all things spicy, and rigorous in his mentorship. Marty taught me the principle of repeatable recipes–the ability to reproduce recipes exactly every time, so that flavors never vary.
Marty instilled in me the one single rule for making food spicy: “Any boob can make food spicy,” he always said. “It takes no talent to make food incomparably spicy. All you have to do is be able to pour. What takes talent is making very spicy food tase good.”
It has been one of the driving principles of my entire cooking career, and I DO like my food spicy.
And so, hot sauce.
I was asked my opinion of some of the sauces one finds in the grocery stores and specialty stores these days; it seems that there are more and more every week. I like some of them, I don’t like some, and some make no impression on me at all. But one conclusion I’ve come to is that it has become an arms race to make sauces hotter and hotter, flavor be damned.
Does the sauce make you sweat? Mission accomplished!
To that I say, FOOEY.
So I went about the challenge of making a sauce myself that was both scintillatingly hot AND memorably tasty.
I think I’ve got it.
And so can you. Make it yourself. This recipe has it all, and I promise you’ll remember it.
Jeff’s Kitchen hot sauce: Thalbasco!
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup diced carrots
½ cup diced onion
3-4 hot red cherry peppers, stemmed, seeded, veins removed
4-8 Tabasco peppers, pickled. (See Note*)
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Heat a heavy-bottom fry pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot add the oil and the carrots, onions, cherry peppers, and garlic, and sauté, stirring frequently, until the carrots are soft and the onions are translucent, 4-5 minutes. Be careful not to let the onions and garlic burn. Turn the heat off and allow to cool completely.
When completely cooled, place the carrot mixture in a blender along with the vinegar and Tabasco peppers, and blend on high speed until completely smooth, with no vegetable pieces.
Slowly drizzle the water into the sauce and continue blending until it is as thin and runny. The sauce should be just barely viscous or completely liquified, as you wish.
Pour the blended sauce, along with the salt and honey, into a heavy-bottom saucepan and bring to a slow simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the sauce is simmering, prepare sauce bottles or jars and lids by washing with hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly, and place in a 215-degree oven. Bring a canning pot filled with water to a slow boil. In the last five minutes the sauce is simmering, place the bottles or jars and lids in the boiling water.
After 30 minutes, ladle the sauce into the bottles, ensuring that there are no bubbles, leaving ½-inch headspace. Wipe the bottle threads to remove any sauce and afix the lids, closing to finger tight. Place the bottles in the boiling water, with at least an inch of water over the lids, cover and process for 20 minutes. The sauce will keep unopened for 1 year, 6 months after opening.
Remove the bottles when finished and set on a towel or cooling rack for 24 hours without moving. If any of the bottles don’t seal ( look for the lids to be indented inward), refrigerate. They will keep refrigerated for 6 months ( but the sauce won’t last that long).
Alternately, if you don’t wish to can the sauce, refrigerate once they have reached room temperature. The refrigerated sauce will keep 6 months.
* I was given pickled Tabasco peppers by a neighbor who grew and pickled them himself. You can buy these peppers from online specialty sites or grow and picks them yourself. Most good garden centers sell the pepper plants in the spring, and pickling them is simple. Directions are on line. Don’t substitute other hot peppers; Tabasco peppers have a very specific flavor. If you can’t find or grow them, substitute original Tabasco sauce at the simmer stage, a teaspoonful at a time and tasting for heat. The sauce won’t be exactly the same, but close, and better than Tabasco Sauce alone. Flavor is everything.
Wednesday afternoon. Been pulling weeds all day…whew!
Got to make dinner for the troops, and a half hour to do it.
What to do?
What’s in the fridge? A container of cooked brown rice. Eggs. Some fresh (zucchini, broccoli, yellow squash, spinach, celery, carrots) and frozen (corn, peas, lima beans, chopped onions…) veggies. In the cellar: onions, garlic, potatoes, sweets.
And in the freezer, a bag of small/medium shrimp, salmon, chicken breasts…
The usual stuff.
But it’s 5:30 and I’ve been doing yard work all day (don’t get too close!)
So…what’s for dinner? This supply list cries out for one perfect thing: Fried Rice. Can do!
Quick and easy–I recommend you keep 2-cup freezer packs of cooked brown rice for emergencies (they freeze well). This is the quickest, easiest, tastiest, and welcome-ist, emergency dinner you can conjure up. Note: we also always have some grilled boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the freezer, just in case. This recipe can be made with chicken, shrimp, or vegetarian, in about 15 minutes, start to finish.
So if you’re in a hurry…
Restaurant-Quality Shrimp Fried Rice
4 teaspoons peanut or canola oil
2 cups brown rice, cooked and completely chilled (use white rice if you prefer, but it MUST be cooked and completely chilled (not just room temp.) before using. This is why I always have a couple of bags of cooked brown rice in the freezer
1 lb. 26-31-count frozen shrimp
1 large carrot, cut into 1-inch strips (roll cut)
1 cup frozen peas
1 small onion, cut into eighths, then sliced in 1/2-inch slices
2 green onions, medium chop
4 tablespoons light soy sauce
6 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fine-ground white pepper
1. Defrost the shrimp in a bowl of water, peel and devein, place in a screen strainer over the sink, and toss with kosher salt.
2. Do all the prep: cut the carrots, onions, and green onions, mix the three sauce ingredients, lightly beat the eggs
3. Heat a wok or large sauté pan over high heat. Add 2 teaspoons oil and immediately add the carrots, onions, and peas; stir-fry for 5-6 minutes, until just beginning to brown and soften. Do not overlook.
4. Push the vegetables to one side, add a teaspoon oil and the shrimp; stir-fry quickly, for ONE minute.
5. Push the shrimp into the vegetables on the side, add a teaspoon oil and eggs, and scramble for ONE minute.
6. Quickly toss all the ingredients together, add the half the rice, stir-fry to combine, then repeat with the remaining rice and toss to mix everything.
7. Whisk the sauce to combine and add the white pepper and HALF the sauce to the fried rice, stir to completely coat. Taste, and add more sauce if you wish. Stir to combine all the ingredients to coat everything with sauce.
8. Turn off the heat, drizzle with a little more sesame-seed oil, sprinkle the green onions over the dish, and serve immediately.
NOTE: if using raw chicken, cut into small dice and cook until just slightly underdone at the step when the shrimp is added; if using cooked chicken, chop small and add at the same time as the rice. If making it vegetarian, but you want more protein, toss in fresh bean sprouts or top each serving with a sunny-side egg.
It’s blueberry season!
Every year about this time (or actually a little bit sooner), we go to the local farmer’s market and buy a flat or two of these bulbous blue beauties. We freeze them in small bags to use the rest of the year.
This year I took a flat for myself and made preserves. Blueberry preserves.
And they are sensational.
With a bit of lemon juice and zest for a fresh jolt of flavor and some acidity sir the canning process, I’ve created a monster of a product. Because I don’t like to add pectin to my products it didn’t tighten up like spreadable jams–it’s just a little bit runny–but now it’s more like a topping. Try it on pancakes. Spread it on a slice of banana bread. . Drop a spoonful or two on a scoop of ice cream (you may never look at vanilla ice cream the same way). Or slather a bit on toast or an English muffin. The blueberry and lemon flavors are so intense that you don’t need much.
Because it’s a little loose I am calling this little jar off goodness “a topping,” not jam or preserves (if you want it to tighten up into a jam add a package of liquid pectin at the half-hour mark). But make no mistake. This is preserved blueberries at their finest.
Try this one yourselves.
Blueberry “Topping” (psssst…it’s preserves)
Ok. So…banana bread.
We have a bowl of bananas ripening–read: turning brown and mushy–on the kitchen counter all summer; we just can’t eat them fast enough.
So we’re swimming in inedible bananas. I know, I know…don’t buy so many. On the other hand, the skins are great for my rose garden, and oh, the muffins!
But it has to be simple, no muss, no fuss. That’s where the blender comes in. Wet ingredients? Dump and blend. One function, one thing to wash, easy to pour–perfect!
Dry ingredients: big bowl, add and whisk. Done!
Extras? Chocolate (or butterscotch, or toffee–whatever) chips, nuts, raisins, dried cranberries, dates, apricots–a half a cup of anything you like. I even made it once with rum and coconut extracts and dried pineapple pieces: pina-colada banana bread. Just use your imagination and have at it.
So. Red onions. Go into any sandwich shop in America and order a sandwich. Any sandwich. The first or second question the order taker will ask you is, “Onions?”
Why is that?
There aren’t too many vegetables that conjure up such a diversity of opinions as onions. Yellow or white? Big or small? Sweet (and if so, can a sweet onion come from any place other than Vidalia, Georgia?) or tangy? Red? Pearl? Ya want fried onions wit dat?
Down south, where they seem to like almost any vegetable pickled, there’s this thing called pickled red onions, and apparently they like them on their pulled-pork barbecue.
I’ve never been big on pickled stuff. Oh sure, I’ve grown to like a nice barrel-pickled half sour. Truth be told, those great big pickles in the barrels at Zabar’s are way too mushy and soft for my liking, although they are a pretty good garlic delivery system. If you catch them early enough in the pickling cycle that they’re still mostly crunchy cucumbers with salty garlic notes, they are okay; in fact they’re pretty darn good.
But pickled onions?
So when my beloved ordered a salad out with extra pickled onions, I found myself asking, “what’s up with that?” “Pickled onions,” she said matter of factly, like I was supposed to know what they were.
“Would you, could you, in a box?” She asked. “Would you, could you, on your lox?
“I do not like…”
She cut me off.
“Try them, try them. You will see.”
So I did.
“Hey, I like them, Sam I am!”
“I’m not Sam,” she said, perhaps the most obvious statement she’s made to me in years, and maybe just a tiny bit cross.
So. Pickled onions. I do! I like them!
I like them so much that I came home that afternoon and made a batch, from a recipe I found on Pinterest. They were terrific; great on pulled BBQ sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, salads–almost everything we eat here at W-T House. And so, I made more. Lots more, with a (hopefully) balance of sweet, spicy, salty, and savory notes. I adapted it from that first pinned recipe I found, with enough of my own nuances, and it’s fabulous. Try this one at home…
Pickled Red Onions
6 medium red onions, peeled, halved, sliced very thin
3 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pickling spice
Pinch dried red pepper flakes
1. Slice off the ends of the onions, halve them through the root end, and slice the halves into half moons 1/8 inch thick. A sharp knife or a mandoline is necessary for thin slices. In a large bowl, separate the half moons into individual strands.
2. Mix the remaining ingredients in a medium non-reactive (stainless steel or enamel-coated) pot, bring to a slow simmer uncovered, and simmer for 10 minutes. In the meantime, prepare 4 pint jars, disks and rings for canning (wash and sterilize). Bring a large canning pot to a slow boil.
3. Fill the warm jars with onion slices and pack them tightly to within 1/2 inch of the rim. Slowly pour the hot pickling brine over the onions until the jars are filled to 1/4 inch of the rim when you push down on the onions. Wipe the rims and threads with a clean, damp cloth and cover the jars to hand tight with the disks and rings, tap lightly to eliminate air bubbles, and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
4. Place the filled jars in the boiling canning bath so that they are not touching, and ensure that the lids are covered with 1-2 inches of water. Return the water bath to a boil and process for 10 minutes (timing may be different at different altitudes–check with a canning resource on line for canning at altitude). Turn off the heat and allow the jars to stand untouched in the water bath for five additional minutes. Remove the jars to a wire rack and allow them to cool, untouched, for 24 hours.
5. Check for good seal on the jars–they should all have popped inward. Any jars that have not sealed properly should be placed in the refrigerator; they will keep refrigerated for up to six weeks. These jars will keep, sealed, for up to a year. Once they are opened all bets are off–maybe they’ll last a day or two, but they will keep for up to six weeks,
Tired of the same old mayo, vinegar, sugar cole slaw? Me too. I decided that it was time do do something a little different, and perhaps radical, just to shake things up a little bit. We hosted some friends for dinner a couple of weeks ago, and needed a plan. We has been discussing with daughter #2 about the graduation party she was planning, and then subject of barbecue came up, which led to the idea of pulled BBQ sliders. Which led to a discussion of menu, which led to a rare meeting of all our minds–and thus the decision was made.
And so, not being red-meat eaters by nature, we felt a dry run was necessary, and thus our dinner guests became the poor souls to bear the burden of our adventure in BBQ.
And what, may I ask, is a pulled BBQ slider without cole slaw? Why it’s just a boring pork (or as often is the case in our house, chicken) sandwich with sauce (think that’s crazy? Try THIS out: https://jeffskitchen.net/2012/08/06/crock-pot-pulled-barbecue/)
So. Cole slaw. I didn’t want to go conventional; I DO have a reputation to uphold, and I DO want our guests to have a unique experience–whether it be dinner guests or a herd of hungry teen-age grad-party revelers. In the end it worked out spectacularly for our dinner guests, and again a week later at a pot-luck dinner I attended.
Tequila, Lime, and Cilantro Cole Slaw.
1/4 cup mayonnaise
4 Tbsp FRESHLY SQUEEZED lime juice (about 2 limes)
4 Tbsp fresh cilantro, minced
2 Tbsp silver tequila
3 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup green onions, thinly sliced
8 cups shredded cabbage and carrots)
1 cup shredded red cabbage
In a large mixing bowl, add the first 7 ingredients (through black pepper) and whisk to combine until smooth.
Add green onions, coleslaw mix and red cabbage and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, to allow flavors to fully combine.